Curious Wiji’s magic touch
If the Wonderland that Alice fell into were transmuted to Metro Manila, it would probably become Wiji Lacsamana’s studio.
The room is in a small corner of her house in a leafy Metro Manila suburb. Heading into the room from the entrance of her home, one might encounter her snub-nosed cat Bowie, and her wide-eyed son Rocco.
Stepping into the room, one will for sure encounter a wall of sketches (old tattoo stencils), shelves filled with plants in various stages of being dried, stacks of books, a framed photo of legendary tribal tattoo artist Whang-Od, several crystals, her late dog Puiji’s skull encased in a glass jar (she had asked her veterinarian brother to keep the skull in memory of Puiji after she died).
Peering out the window, one might see more animal friends: two tortoises, a duck, and huge pig named Pinkerton.
This sun-dappled room is, as one would say, where the magic happens – in this case, the magic being Wiji’s work, which spans an entire universe of interests, beginning with what she is known for the most: tattoos.
And they’re not your typical tattoos either. Over the years, Wiji has become known for the dreamy, watercolor images she places permanently on peoples’ skin, almost like impressionist paintings with faint lines and soft edges that belie the ritual pain and drawing of blood that it takes to get them.
The magic moment
One could say Wiji ended up tattooing by kismet. Even though she had already been doing illustrations and design work before, and despite being covered in tattoos herself, tattooing was not something she had ever considered before. But one night at a party, she picked up a tattoo gun, and just knew it was exactly what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“It’s like when you surf for the first time, you know the stoke? It’s exactly that way,” Wiji said, as she shared the story of when she first discovered tattooing at a friend’s birthday party.
“He invited all of us to our friend’s studio, 55Tinta, and I went there thinking inuman lang siya (we would just be drinking). He wanted us to tattoo him pala, crazy guy,” she laughed.
Wiji’s friend was prepared for the moment. He had had empty windows tattooed on his back, and made sure that the newbies were helped out by a professional tattoo artist, Dyun Depasupil.
And so it happened that Wiji, who never tattooed anyone before that moment, ended up etching a bird freehand on her friend’s skin.
“Now that I think of it, it looks a lot like the Twitter bird,” she said, laughing that it must have been the ugliest tattoo she’s ever seen. But still. “As soon as I did the first line, yun pala yung feeling (that's the feeling) when you find your calling.”
She shared that the experience followed her home even as she left the party, and kept her up the rest of the night.
“I was just thinking, rewinding in my head the first time I tattooed,” she said, sharing that she immediately texted Dyun the following morning, asking if he would take her in as his apprentice.
“He didn’t reply!” Wiji said. Even if she felt rejected, she decided to give it one more shot and asked him again a week later.
“He replied in less than 5 minutes: ‘you passed the first test,’” she shared. She began her apprenticeship soon after.
Unusual career choice that it is, one can imagine that learning to become a tattoo artist isn’t the easiest path to take. Wiji said it’s important to be committed to it from the start, especially at the start.
“It’s not easy, you’re going to be broke for a few years. It’s really expensive,” she said. “You have to be serious about it.”
Aside from coming at a cost, Wiji shared that learning to tattoo is also difficult because of the very nature of it – that is, the fact that you’re basically scarring another human being to mark them for the rest of their lives.
“Your canvas when you’re tattooing is a living, breathing thing,” Wiji explained, saying that the skin stretches like rubber, and that clients move and react to the sensations.
“So it’s not just like drawing,” she said.
But the fact that her canvas is alive is perhaps what makes Wiji and tattooing a perfect match. It’s an art form that draws an instantaneous reaction, a ritual that relies so heavily on the exchange and balance of energy between the artist and the canvas.
It may be a tricky path to navigate, but if there’s anyone better suited to it, it’s Wiji, whose warmth and calm, which you feel from the moment you meet her, no doubt adds another element to the therapeutic effects of getting tattooed.
Wiji, are you witch?
One only needs to talk to Wiji for a while to understand that she is a person who is particularly attuned to – and particularly interested in – energy and spirituality, and all other things that can be felt even if not seen or held.
For instance, she keeps a rose quartz in her pocket, which she holds on to whenever the stress or tension in the room gets particularly overwhelming. She burns sage, too.
Wiji feels her tattoo clients out, and if she senses that they are stressed or troubled, she offers to perform Reiki, a Japanese healing technique, with their permission.
She also recently wrote, published, and launched a book called Tiny Universe, which is filled with her art and words. On her website, the book is described as “an invitation to go inward, and marvel at the wonderful world within you.”
“It is about being mindful about who [we] share our energies with; it is about being mindful about the energies we give out into the world. It is about embracing the energies we have inhaled so much, they have become part of who [we] are,” the description reads.
And the dried flowers on her shelves? Wiji tinkers and experiments with them for Radioactive Mushrooms in the Forest, her small-batch organic and cruelty-free beauty and skincare line, which includes organic perfumes whose scents are meant to promote healing and well-being.
These new age interests have led to Wiji being asked if she was a witch – an assertion that seemed to amuse, even delight her.
For the record: “No I’m not,” she said with a laugh.
But she may as well be, if only because it seems that everything she touches – from skin, to soul – suddenly becomes magical. – Rappler.com